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Communicating with Congress -
Rosters and Helpful Hints

The Special Updates and Alerts sent out by AGI's Geoscience Policy staff sometimes suggest interacting with your member of Congress as a way of explaining the value of geoscience or explaining the role of geoscience in a policy decision. Communicating with your member is an important part of being an active and responsible citizen. Your members have been elected to serve you, and they need to know what you, their constituent, believe are the important issues. Visits to your member, either in Washington or within the state or district, are generally the most effective way to explain your position. Visits are not, however, always feasible, and a well-reasoned personal letter is another practical way to get your message across. The following information is meant to serve as a resource for helping you better communicate with Congress.

Tips for Writing Your Member of Congress


Taking the time to write a letter shows sincerity and thoughtfulness. Your correspondence will be more effective if you follow these guidelines provided by the American Institute of Physics:

  • Timing is important: A letter sent after Congress acts is a missed opportunity, while correspondence sent months before an issue is considered is likely to be forgotten. AGI strives to provide you with the most up-to-date information on issues, and will continue to send alerts of critical times for communications.
  • Avoid scientific jargon. Remember that members and staff are mostly generalists.
  • Limit your letter to one page and one subject.
  • In the first paragraph, explain your reason for writing. Briefly note your "credentials," and include other pertinent information.
  • In the second paragraph, describe the importance of the issue. Cite relevant facts and avoid emotionalism. Frame your discussion from a national, rather than a personal, perspective.
  • In the third, and concluding paragraph, request (not demand) a specific action. Thank the Member for his/her consideration of your views. Offer assistance.

Ensure that your letter includes your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail. Due to increased security for postal mail, it is better and faster to send your letter by email or fax.

For an email, be sure to include a specific and clear subject heading, such as: Please support "bill name", "bill number". If possible, put the text of the letter into the main body of the email. Attachments are not recommended. Some members have email forms on their web sites, where you can copy and paste your letter into the main message box.

For a fax, be sure to include a specific and clear subject heading, such as: Please support "bill name", "bill number".

The correct address style is:

The Honorable __________
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable __________
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Representative __________:

Dear Senator __________:

Cite a specific bill when possible. Please contact the AGI Government Affairs Program with any questions. A list of the relevant House and Senate committees is available below. More information on all House Committees and Senate Committees is available on their respective web sites. To determine by zip code who your representative is, visit the House "Write Your Representative" page. Visit the Senate web site for contact information and to learn more about your senators.

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Visiting Your Member of Congress


You have two options for visiting your member of Congress - meeting either in Washington or in your home district when Congress is on recess (known as a "district work period" in the House). Generally, visits in your district are more relaxed, as your representative is not distracted by floor votes or other procedural matters. Moreover, members tend to better recall meetings back home, since they have returned to keep in touch with the concerns of the people who elected them. Washington visits are also effective, and have the advantage of meeting with staff members, who are usually easier to gain an appointment with and whose opinions are highly regarded by their senator or representative. The Senate (202-224-3121) and House (202-225-3121) switchboards will connect you with your member. The following tips are applicable to both types of meetings:

  • Plan your visit early, but be flexible. Unanticipated schedule changes occur often, and you may meet with a staffer. Treat this visit as if you were meeting with the member.
  • If you are meeting as part of a group, decide on a spokesperson. Generally this person should be from the member's district, as members are most concerned with constituent concerns.
  • Expect a short visit, usually 15 minutes or less.
  • Know your message, and stick to it. If possible, bring a visual aid or a one page handout to leave after your visit.
  • Do your homework. Know which committees your member serves on, and examine the voting record to learn of positions on previous issues. The Project Vote Smart web page has information on all members voting records, finances, and policy statements
  • Explain how the issue affects other constituents, not just yourself.
  • Use conversational language and avoid technical terms.

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Congressional Committees of Interest


U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Senate

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Visit our sources for more information: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers USA, Engineer's Guide to Public Policy; American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, 1997 #69; American Geophysical Union ASLA materials

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Geoscience Policy.

   



Lobbying

Writing to Congress

Visiting Your Member of Congress

Congressional Committee Rosters


Government Affairs Homepage

 


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